The first time Jazmine Fenlator tried out for the U.S. Women’s Bobsled Team in 2007 she had never even sat in one of the torpedo-like sleds that can descend icy chutes at speeds near 100 miles per hour.
For the tryouts, hopefuls must pass fitness tests for speed, power and strength—then they get a chance on the ice. “If you like the ride, you stick around,” Fenlator says. “Some people head to the airport before it’s over.” Fenlator liked the ride.
Becoming the first female bobsledder from New Jersey was not part of Fenlator’s game plan, although the Wayne native, now 28, knew from an early age that she wanted to be an Olympian.
As an 8-year-old dancer auditioning for Broadway plays and commercials, “I told my mom I was going to make modern dance an Olympic sport,” she says. “I even wrote letters to the President about it.”
Fenlator graduated from Wayne Valley High School and went on to Rider University in Lawrenceville, where her aspiration turned to medaling in a throwing event. But Robert Pasquariello, her track and field coach, had other ideas.
“When he mentioned bobsled, I looked at him like he was crazy. Just because I’m half Jamaican doesn’t mean I can do that,” she says, referencing the famed Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the 1988 Calgary Games.
Pasquariello felt bobsledding would “maximize” Fenlator’s combination of power, which she says comes from her Eastern European mother, and speed, from her Caribbean father.
After passing her 2007 tryout, Fenlator started as a brakeman, which is akin to being the back end of a horse costume, but with a worse view. “It’s as if you’re stuffed into a 40-liter garbage can, you put on the lid and you’re rolling downhill,” she says. “You can’t really control where you’re going.”
In 2010, she switched to pilot, which offers an infinitely better view—and more control. “I’m going down a mile of ice in 60 seconds or less at up to 85-plus miles per hour,” she says. “I get to see what the track looks like. You’re putting the puzzle together.”
Sometimes the puzzle falls to pieces. Her worst ride came on her third day of bobsledding, when she and her pilot crashed on the fourth of 20 curves and had to keep going because there was no other way down. “I had an ice burn on my left back arm,” she relates. “The first words out of mom’s mouth were, ‘What’s going to happen when you get married and wear your wedding dress?’”
But things got better fast. Fenlator earned a silver medal at the 2012-2013 World Cup competition in Lake Placid, New York, and bronze in Igls, Austria. “I just had an overwhelming sense of calmness and knew I was going to be on,” she says of those triumphant moments. “I had normal jitters, but knew nothing was going to stand in my way.”
Training and competing are year-round pursuits. “I’ve lived out of a suitcase for 15 months,” Fenlator says. “I’m not in one location for more than three to four weeks at a time.”
In addition to physical conditioning, the training helps athletes overcome fear. “Every time I stand at the top of the hill, I have this overwhelming sense of fear,” Fenlator says. “But it’s controlled. I know the risk. I know at any point there could be a crash or a mistake.”
Like every potential Olympian, Fenlator has made great sacrifices for the chance to stand on the medalists’ platform. The time away from her family has been particularly difficult. Her biggest champion, her 55-year-old mom, has careened from one crisis to the next, starting with health issues that have left her unable to work. In 2011, Hurricane Irene flooded their home and left Fenlator’s mom and younger sister with nowhere to live. The U.S. Bobsled team set up a fund to help them rebuild, but the home is now in foreclosure. Then this past August, while Fenlator was on her way to train in Calgary, Canada, she called home between plane connections and found out her mom had suffered two strokes.
Many times Fenlator, who has a master’s degree in exercise and sciences and is now pursuing her MBA online from DeVry University, has suggested she quit the team to get a steady job and help her family financially, but “my mom wanted no part of that,” Fenlator says. “No matter what happens as long as I’m pursuing things I want to, that’s what makes her smile.”
WATCH FOR THESE STANDOUTS
The following is a look at four of Fenlator’s teammates, all with ties to Jersey. Reported by Robert Strauss.
Highlights: Three-time National Championship bronze medalist; 2010 America’s Cup overall champion.
How I Train: My regimen is heavily focused on sprint training and Olympic weightlifting. I train six days per week, up to six hours per day. To recover, I spend an hour in the Sports Medicine Clinic at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. I sit in an ice bath for 20 minutes, stretch, and use a foam roller to target tight muscles. It’s not fun, but it is effective.
In The Beginning: Despite many winters spent racing head first down snowy hills as a kid, I had no idea skeleton even existed until the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. That February, I clicked a link on the Yahoo! homepage that read “Third Generation Olympian Wins Skeleton Gold.” After reading the article, I felt compelled to try the sport.
My Other Life: I work as a software and web developer. I mostly build apps for iPhone and iPad. I also enjoy writing, and I’m confident I’ll have a great story to tell when I decide to hang up my skeleton spikes.
Hometown: Green Brook
Sport: Sled Hockey (Paralympics, which will take place March 7-16 at Sochi)
Highlights: National team, 2008 to present. Won world championships in 2009 and 2012 and Olympic gold in 2010.
How I Train: I work out three to four days a week in the gym, see a nutritionist and skate at least once a week with my club team, the St. Louis Blues of the DASA [Disabled Athlete Sport Association]. I do a lot of weight training and plyometrics. I do the rowing machine for cardio and do a lot of abs stuff with cable machines and medicine balls and the like. The abs are important in sled hockey to stay upright on the sled.
In The Beginning: When I was 10, my mom saw a flyer about a match between a sled hockey team and able-bodied skaters for a charity event. [Pauls was born without tibias and had his lower legs amputated when he was 10 months old.] It didn’t seem my thing. But the next year, I went to another game and I somehow fell in love with it. I am pretty much the definition of a one-sport athlete, because I don’t do much else. I am not gifted, but I work hard.
My Other Life: I graduated Watchung Hills Regional High School in 2011 and am now at Lindenwood University in Missouri studying sports management. I help coach a team here and would like to either be a coach or own an ice arena or have camps for hockey. I also play video games and outdoorsy kinds of things. I have never felt alienated or left out; I’ve always had a great group of friends.
Hometown: Long Valley
Sport: Aerial Freestyle Skiing
Highlights: International Ski Federation Rookie of the Year, 2011; U.S. Ski Team member since 2011; bronze medalist at Deer Valley championships, 2013.
How I Train: Winters we spent four hours a day on the hill at our Park City [Utah] facility. In summers, there is a water ramp with an artificial-snow surface where we practice. I also do three workouts a week, mostly a lot of back stuff because our backs are the first things to go when you do triple flips. We do a lot of squats and core stuff, too, to keep our legs strong for takeoffs and landings.
In The Beginning: When I was 13, I visited my aunt and uncle in Park City and tried out a water-ramp camp that summer. I ended up loving it and people said I was really good already. I was always really into trampoline and had one in my back yard. I would teach myself flips and twists. I had tried skateboarding and rollerblading, but when I tried aerials, I knew it was the thing I wanted to do. Triple flips looked like fun.
My Other Life: I play guitar and am into film and video editing. I also produce some music for hip-hop, mostly for myself and my friends when we are hanging out.
Sport: Ice Hockey
Highlights: Drafted 27th overall by the Washington Capitals in 2008. Alternate captain for the 2010 U.S. World Junior team; scored the winning goal in overtime in the gold medal game vs. Canada. 2011 NHL All-Rookie team. Has had 110 points (29 goals and 81 assists) as a defenseman for Washington.
How I Train: In the early part of the off-season, I focus on weight training and cardio. Typically, I maintain a weight-training routine and will do cardio exercises five days a week. Starting in August, I begin to skate again. Each week, I gradually increase the days I skate. Ideally, it is three times a week then up to five days a week by training camp.
In The Beginning: My father taught me how to skate when I was four years old. My favorite memory of playing as a kid is being at the rink and shooting pucks with my older brother.
My Other Life: In my down time, I enjoy relaxing and playing with my puppy, Ellie.
The XXII Olympic Winter Games will be held February 7 to 23 in Sochi and will be televised by NBC. The XI Paralympic Winter Games run March 7 to 16.